Saturday, June 11, 2011

Super 8

After work yesterday morning, I went to see Super 8, which was one of my most anticipated movies of the summer. I spent the week wallowing in some the movies that inspired it - Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, Alien, Scanners, E.T., etc. - and walked into the theater with a mixture of excitement and trepidation (because it probably was not going to live up to expectations).

The movie is certainly not perfect, but it is EXTREMELY good, worthy to be put next to the awesome geek movies of most of our childhoods, particularly those centered around child characters. I say "most of our" childhoods, because I'm still catching up to movies that everyone else my age saw when they were kids. I don't have the nostalgia to look back on these movies as the Best Ever (I mean, E.T. is quite good, but robbed for Best Picture in 1982? Not really. Yeah, I said it.), but I definitely get warm fuzzies just as if these movies were actually a part of my own childhood.

The less said about the plot of Super 8 the better. The trailer tells you everything you need to know before going in. A group of kids are making a movie, and strange things start happening that turn their little town upside down. There are a bunch of kid actors you've never heard of and one that maybe you have (Elle Fanning, who I vastly prefer to her older sister), plus the Friday Night Lights guy (Kyle Chandler), the guy who used to date Julianna Margulies on E.R. and in real life (Ron Eldard), and the guy who's in every Frank Darabont project except Shawshank (Noah Emmerich).

The mysterious element in the movie is ever so slightly underdeveloped. I think this is mainly because the movie is far more interested in the kids - as well it should be - and their point of view is limited. These are some of the best movie kids I've seen in a long, long time. They are real kids, not actors playing some Hollywood jagoff's idea of what kids are like. They talk like real kids, about topics that kids actually talk about. It's hard for the main character Joe (Joel Courtney) not to be a favorite, but he gets serious competition from Cary (Ryan Lee), the runt who's way too into explosives. Cary is just such an awesome kid, and I want to hang out with him and watch movies. I also really dug Charles (Riley Griffiths), whose family is very reminiscent of the Weasleys of Harry Potter. He's not as awesome as Ron (but then, who is?), and he has kind of an unlikeable streak, but he still manages to be a mostly sympathetic character. Notable small roles are filled by the amazing Dale Dickey (one of the great supporting actors of last year's Winter's Bone) and Dan Castelleneta (the voice of Homer Simpson). I want to see it again so I can spot Abrams regulars Greg Grunberg and Michael Giacchino in cameos as well (Giacchino also composed the wonderful score).

This movie is clearly inspired by the classic "Peter Pan era" Spielberg films, and as one of the film's producers, his stamp on the material is hard to deny. But I feel like Super 8 is very much its own film. In the same spirit as those great early 80s adventures, but it never feels like a copy of any of those films.

I don't think you'd get very far out of the theater after the movie before you realized this, but stick around for the credits and you will see Charles's film in its entirety. It is fantastic, and I was very much reminded (not just during their little film, but in the scenes where they were making it as well) of those guys who made their own version of Raiders of the Lost Ark when they were kids. Lots of cool movie geek references are woven into their story, like the fact that Joe learned about makeup from Dick Smith's book (Smith is a legend in film makeup, having most notably created Linda Blair's super-scary demonic look for The Exorcist).

Side note: In watching all those movies in preparation for Super 8, I have discovered that - aside from it being the film Super 8 most closely resembles - I find Close Encounters of the Third Kind to be Spielberg's greatest film, period. The scope of that story is unreal, and the various human perspectives on the mysterious elements are some of the best storytelling I've ever seen. I need to do a proper post on it someday.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Mutant and Proud!

So I went to see X-Men: First Class yesterday, which I thought was mostly excellent. My only big problem was the way they tried to shoehorn in the nicknames. There's actually a scene where the "teen" mutants are sitting around figuring out what they're going to call themselves. "And you should be Professor X! And you should be Magneto!" I mean, really. And don't get me started on the coining of the term "X-Men." I mean, I'm sure the film accurately explains where the term came from, but to have someone actually say it was unbelievably corny.

The rest of it, though, is pretty spectacular. I love the 60s trappings and that Charles says "groovy." There are also two cameos from familiar franchise faces that should please fans (and certainly pleased the audience I saw it with). The most compelling parts of the film, as one might expect, are the scenes with Charles and Erik (later known as Prof. X and Magneto, respectively, of course, but those aren't their names yet). My movie husband, Michael Fassbender, is amazing as usual and he and James McAvoy have pretty great chemistry. I've never read the comics, so I don't know if this is true to the canon or not, but I love the idea that they were friends - and very likely are still quite fond of each other. They just stand on opposite sides of the mutant issue and have very different moral values. My favorite scene by far is the sequence where they are going around the world and contacting fellow mutants, especially when they're recruiting "Angel." I almost wanted one of them to ask "Do I make you horny, baby?"

There's some great action in this movie, too (I would expect no less from the director of Kick-Ass). And I loved the integration of historical events, most notably the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This brings me to one weird thing about my screening, though. About ten minutes before the show started, about 100 children came filing in (seriously). All schools are presumably out by now, so I'm thinking this was a summer camp or something. Some of the kids were 12/13, but many of them could not have been older than about 7, which is TOO YOUNG (in general) to see a movie like this. Seriously, there are Nazis and torture chambers and mothers getting shot in the FIRST TEN MINUTES. In the rest of the movie, there are also exotic dancers, a blue but otherwise quite naked Jennifer Lawrence, and a good deal of violence. And the f-word, though only once. Earth to adults who are responsible for other people's children - just because it's a comic book movie doesn't mean it's for kids. Just, wow.

Overall, I really loved it. I don't remember much about the first two X-Men movies (which are the only ones I've seen), but this one is just as good as those, as I remember them. Maybe my favorite of the lot (if you leave out the cheesy nicknaming scene, of course :P).